Thursday, October 27, 2011

Free Family Documents

Just visited this site,, where early LDS church documents have been found in Civil War pension papers and elsewhere, all deemed extremely valuable.

Our Free family documents include a deed signed by Brigham Young as well as invaluable materials concerning other family members. All will be available to all family members and all LDS researchers once this book is completed.

We have a few family letters, many items from County Courthouses all across the country as well as bits and pieces from others' histories. We have six boxes full of Free historical materials in the closet behind me as well as several boxes of the same filed away in the garage. Of course, everything in the history will be written from documents with the most primary documents given the most credence.

It is important that readers understand the relative value of documents, so when they read the history they can know which information bits are most true. Anything that is labelled a family tradition or begins with "Grandma [or anybody else] said this about so and so" should be taken with a grain of salt. Yet people tend to believe and stick with what someone said someone else said a hundred years ago. Those things are the least believable.

Recently I had a most interesting conversation with a scientist who insisted the information in a 60-year-old letter that began by saying some great ancestor had said thus and so about an event that took place more than 150 years earlier and had not been written down until the 1940s was more true than documents written at the time of the event by people not only living at that time but by people invested in the event.

As a scientist he should know better. In fact, I was sure he would know better. But he stuck to the family legend like glue because his grandfather said it was so, even though he was recording an event that took place 150 years earlier.

He would never [I hope] use the same measurement for his scientific experiments. Can you imagine him saying after viewing an experiment himself, "No, that study done 150 years ago with its primitive processes and equipment is the one I will base this medical experiment on, not the one I just witnessed with the latest tools and equipment and measurements. Why? Because my grandfather said my many-times great-grandfather said it was so." Would you submit to a medical procedure based on centuries old data?

Of course not. Well, neither should you base your pedigree on stories handed down over decades because stories [even though they make delightful and meaningful histories] change every time they are told. So in our Free history, look for the documents behind the stories as well as the documentation of the stories.

An example of the kind of thing you may find: My siblings and I were raised on the wonderful "Glass of Milk" story that involved a national post office workers convention including Senator Smoot from Utah. We never doubted the story. Even so, when I had the chance, I interviewed Dad's friend who Dad accompanied to the Chicago convention. Plus I have a photocopy of the program giving date and place and Senator Smoot's name.

The story has directed our lives: it is the key to many choices in our lives. But the program and interview assure us the event actually happened and give us dates and places. Believe, enjoy, be inspired by the story. But know you can believe, enjoy and be inspired because of the documentation.

That combination of story and primary documentation underlies everything in the Free history as far as possible. Some stories are pinned by less than primary documentation. Of those stories, you the reader must make judgements. And you can only make wise judgements if you understand that family legends are family legends, very unbelievable, and where other documents fall on the primary/secondary scale. Do a search for the word "primary" on this blog for more information.

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